Errors, from Glasgow, Scotland, started things off with what seemed like the intro to an ethereal, somber set of music. Turns out, though, the foursome was just getting warmed up with a slow drift into its first song. Clearly the band had spent some time developing its dynamics and composition, because at times the first song sounded like the musical equivalent of dust motes catching the sunlight at dawn, swirled around by a gentle breeze. Impressionistic stuff that ultimately gave way to upbeat synth-heavy pop songs informed by a youthful energy and urgency.
At some point, Stephen Livingstone told us they had gone to Casa Bonita the night before and remarked that "there's probably no other place like it on Earth." He also noted what everyone in Denver already knows: that you don't really go there for the food. Then the band went back to its entrancing blend of analog synth, interweaving guitar melodies and atmospheres and propulsive rhythms. When Livingstone thanked us for putting up with the band, it seemed funny, because the strength and energy of the performance and the material was immediately engaging.
When Mogwai took the stage, Stuart Braithwaite said, "Hi, we're Mogwai from Glasgow, Scotland," as if there could be any doubt. For nearly two hours afterward, despite a supposed decibel restriction, Mogwai ran through songs from a broad spectrum of its career, beginning with "White Noise." Offering up a much more robust bass tone than the recording could fully capture, Dominic Aitchison's notes hung in the air before breaking up with natural distortion. For "Rano Pano," Barry Burns left his synth and computer nook to play guitar alongside John Cummings and Braithwaite, and the three layered the guitar parts together to create one positively compelling drone composition.
With the opening strains of "I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead," cheers went up in the crowd in recognition of one of the group's finest compositions -- one that, in this performance, took a melancholy, introspective musical idea and turned it into something defiant. "Mexican Grand Prix" and its minimal, electro percussion intro evolved into a song reminiscent of some kind of hybrid of Stereolab and Trans Am. One of the other high points of an already impressive show came with the familiar introduction to "New Paths to Helicon Part 1," as that song began its long ascent into a shining, burning sonic expression of sheer joy and beauty. The main set ended with an early crowd favorite, "Mogwai Fear Satan."
After a brief break off stage, Mogwai came back on first with the piano-driven "Auto Rock" before segueing into the "Rano Pano" single B-side "Hasenheide." Before playing the final song, Braithwaite dedicated it to "that vegetarian" restaurant that Aitchison reminded him was called WaterCourse. After he offered some kind words about the vegetarian buffalo wings and the staff, the edgy guitar intro of "Batcat" filled the room, and the band finished the show with a song that was borderline metal, making it pretty obvious that this band can't be narrowly categorized.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: Longtime fan of Mogwai. Random Detail: Ran into Enrique Jimenez of Panal, Spy and Cole Rudy from Barnacle, and Lily Scott at the show. By the Way: James Hamilton, drummer for Errors, filled in on drums for Mogwai. He played two heroic back-to-back sets beautifully.
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MOGWAI 05.02.11 | Bluebird Theater Denver, CO
White Noise Friend of the Night Rano Pano Death Rays I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead San Pedro Mexican Grand Prix How to Be a Werewolf New Paths to Helicon Part 1 You're Lionel Richie George Square Thatcher Death Party Mogwai Fear Satan
ENCORE Auto Rock Hasenheide Batcat